A representative for a school board candidate Wednesday night drew criticism from other candidates when he said “the educational system dropped the ball in 1954 with segregation,” in response to a question about the disproportionate suspension rates of minority students.
The comment, made by David Esquith who represented candidate Morris Panner, drew an immediate response from Christopher Barclay of Takoma Park, who is running for re-election.
“How did the schools drop the ball in 1954?” Barclay said. “1954 was the decision to stop segregation. The ball had been dropped for kids, spat on, and in the toilet for all years prior. ... So what are you saying?”
Barclay said he felt disrespected with the comment, and he felt the public was disrespected from the comment.
Esquith clarified that he meant that the U.S. educational system has often dropped the ball when it comes to social justice issues, leaving it up to the federal justice system to make changes.
“The point I was making was in 1954, it was the courts, not the school system, that required schools to be integrated,” he said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that decided segregated schools are unequal.
In an interview Thursday, Panner said Esquith’s thoughts were his own. He was frustrated to hear that the quote was being taken out of context. He said he was trying to make the point that the school board must work to correct social injustices, as the educational system often lags in correcting these issues.
“I couldn’t be more adamant about ensuring social equalities for our kids,” Panner said.
Panner is running against incumbent Phil Kauffman of Olney for an at-large position on the Montgomery County Board of Education. Barclay is running against Annita Seckinger for the Dist. 4 seat. Election day is Nov. 6.
Fred Evans, who is running against Rebecca Smondrowski for the open Dist. 2 seat, was also confused by the comment. He said Esquith should not generalize the issue of desegregation of schools in the entire country.
“You can’t just simply say that schools could have done it,” he said.
Panner said that he disagrees. He said that while schools have to comply with the law, “nothing prevents schools from complying from a different standard to make sure students get a good education.”
Barclay said his frustration is not just with Esquith’s comments, but with the fact that Panner has sent people to represent him at two forums. The forum last night was held Wednesday at the Long Branch Community Center in Silver Spring, and another forum was hosted Sept. 25 by the Sligo-Branview Community Association.
“We don’t do this by proxy,” Barclay said. “We don’t vote by proxy.”
Danica Holley, a Silver Spring resident who attended both forums, said that Panner’s campaign is suffering from his approach.
“Trying to understand his positions and where he is coming from through another person’s voice is hard to do,” Holley said.
Panner said he was working last night. He said he feels sending parents who have students in the school system to represent him is an effective way in showing that he has a grassroots campaign.
“My views are shared by parents in the system with kids in the system who are frustrated with a system which has been comfortable for too long,” he said. “There is no independence among current board members.”